Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WNW: When "Right" Is Twitchy

Our local recreation center has a sign on the track that reads, in part, something like:

If you swam, Dry off before going on the track

A good friend e-mailed me about it after twitching all through her three times-a-week runs around that track. She asked if the sign was wrong, because it sounded awkward (especially with "swam"), but she couldn't think of a better way to say it.

If you set aside the fact that dry shouldn't be capitalized here, the sign is grammatically correct.

The tenses of swim go like this:

Present tense: swim (This morning, I will swim for thirty minutes.)
Past tense: swam (Last week, I swam ten laps.)
Past participle: had swum (I thought back to the time I had swum with a team.)

So swam is the right form of the word, plain old past tense.

And yet. That sign makes me twitch too.

It's a great case of when smooth writing and clarity trump "right." In other words, just because it's correct doesn't mean it's the best way of saying something.

The other day, as I was leaving the rec center, I saw her as she came around the track. "I've got it!" she said. "It should say, 'Dry off after swimming'!"

Ding!

She's absolutely right. The sign could be rewritten in a number of ways, and that's a great one. It would not only save room, but be clearer. Her version takes the verb swam and turns it into a noun, swimming.

As you all know, I get all twitchy when things are incorrect, but that doesn't mean I won't twitch when they're correct—but goofy and awkward.

A great writer can take a twitchy (but correct) sentence and mold it, making the end result something others will read and understand without a second thought.

Or a twitch.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Getting Kids Psyched About Books

Today I'm making good on my promise (from, ahem, more than two months ago) to talk about some of the things I've done to help my kids love reading. So here goes:

I got lucky with my first child. When he started reading aloud billboards as we drove along the freeway, I had no idea that doing such things at age three wasn't normal. I'd like to take credit for his insane reading skillz (and I can take credit for the things I did to expose him to reading and words and books), but truly, he just came wired ready to soak it up.

He didn't learn much in kindergarten, as he was already reading at a fourth-grade level. Comprehension, inference, and some other accompanying reading skills weren't quite that high, but he could decode like a pro.

While I was pregnant with him, I was finishing my English degree, and I spent literally hours reading aloud as I paced our apartment so I could finish the assignments and not fall asleep from pregnancy fatigue. He literally heard volumes of classic literature in utero. I can't help but wonder if that helped form some brain connections or something.

(The other kids heard plenty of books read aloud in utero, but those were Dr. Seuss and other kids books. Link? We'll never know.)

Some things we did to expose him (and his siblings) to reading early:
  • Read aloud. A lot. He got several books read to him before every nap, before bed, and at lots of other times.
  • Point out easy words and have him learn them. I started with the classic sight words, although I didn't know that's what they were called. (A similar list is HERE.) As a toddler, he knew to expect Mom to point to about one word per page for him to read, whether a simple the, you, or car, or something a bit more complicated.
  • Let them help with shopping. Kids love finding "apples" on the list and crossing it out.They enjoy searching for words on labels. Even little kids can learn to identify the signs for the bakery and deli and eventually figure out what the sounds in the letters mean. (The store is another great spot for practicing numbers and easy math.)
  • Cook together and point out ingredients, labels, and instructions.
I had a couple of challenges getting him to actually read. One was that most books on his age level were too easy for him. The first books he really took to, thanks to their humor, were the Captain Underpants books. I know some parents cringe at those (potty humor, intentional misspellings, etc.), but to me, hey, he was reading. Those books hooked him. He read them all so much they fell apart. I got a few comb-bound, but eventually, we had to buy a new set.

Which led to my second challenge with him: He didn't like trying new books. Around 4th or 5th grade, he had two series he loved . . . and read them over and over. And read nothing else. Boys are particularly hard to find books for at that age; it seems like there are far more girl titles for the in-between reading ages than for boys.

Finding new books that sparked his interest took time and effort (including asking just about every mom of boys I could find what their kids liked and spending hours trolling the Internet for ideas), but it was worth it; eventually we broke through the block, and he discovered a bunch of other writers and books.

Child #2 learned to read well, and pretty early, if not as fast as her brother. She was always ahead of her grade on decoding, comprehension, and fluency.

But she hated reading.

Which about killed me. Getting the required 15 or 20 minutes of reading per day for school was pure torture (for both us), especially as she got older. By fourth grade, I could get her to read a stack of picture books, but she refused to try a novel, even an easy chapter book.

I was terrified that she'd never enjoy reading. Aside from the joy that reading can be, I was afraid she'd lose out on the skills literacy provides.

Two things finally solved the problem:
  • We used audio books along with the hard-copy book. So she read the text as she listened to the book. I got this idea from my teacher-writer friend (and critique group member) Lu Ann Staheli. This technique helped take away some of the intimidation factor. After reading a few books this way, she was no longer afraid of chapter books.
  • I noticed that she complained of headaches in her forehead after reading. I remembered that when my dad was young, reading always felt like work because of eye issues. When reading is physically painful, of course you don't enjoy it. A trip to the eye doctor with her confirmed it: while she had 20/20 vision for distance, she had significant astigmatism, which made her eye muscles work extra hard to keep the text in focus. That led to headaches from eye-muscle fatigue, right on her forehead, where her pain was centered. She got reading glasses, and a few days later, I found her curled up on her bed with a novel. I walked away with tears in my eyes.
Child #3 is a perfectionist. When she first started reading, if she couldn't sound out a word the first time around, she fell apart. "I'll never get it! Waaah!" Tears and meltdown.

No amount of explaining that everyone makes mistakes made any difference. We had to back up, go to easier levels that she'd already mastered, and let her have lots of success with those easier books. Then, when she felt ready, we worked up to harder ones.

She didn't like doing that, because she's also an over achiever, and she wanted to be on the higher levels, faster. She eventually managed to jump ahead, but I think it was because of the confidence she developed early on.

When she struggled with the transition to chapter books, I spent time reading aloud with her. I read one page, and she read the next. This helped her get through harder books with support at her side (and reading only half the text). But it also helped me hear what words and concepts she struggled with, so I could help her over some of those hurdles.

This year, her sixth-grade teacher required the students to read 35 books each, in a variety of genres. My daughter's goal is to double that number. With about 6 weeks left in the school year, she's going to make it pretty easily. (And these aren't small books; most are quite thick, in the 300-page range.)

Child #4 falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. She's been surrounded by reading all her life, so it was a natural thing to pick up and strive for. I admit that as the youngest, she got read to least of all the siblings (she got maybe one book at nap time instead of four like her brother), but she got something else: instead of only picture books for bedtime, she heard a lot of novels, since I began reading to everyone at night, and her siblings were past the picture-book stage.

So while I'd still read her picture books, at a pretty young age, she was also listening to much longer, more complex books. She didn't always follow the stories or understand them (and often spent that time on the floor next to us, doodling with paper and crayons), but I really think it's helped in her comprehension, vocabulary, prediction skills, and more.

In fact, I have friends who crack up at her vocabulary because it's so advanced for her age. I think her ability to think, speak, and process at a high level is a direct result of being the youngest and being surrounded by bigger words at a younger age.

Other things we've done:
Participate in library story times for toddlers and preschoolers.

Participate in library summer reading programs.

Have family reading parties.

Nearly always buy something from book orders and the school book fairs. The only rule is that it must be a BOOK, not a toy or game. (This rule is getting harder to keep as book orders veer away from books more and more. Drives me batty.)

The kids are guaranteed to get at least 3 books as gifts during the year: at Christmas, birthdays, and in their Easter baskets. One year, when #3 was a toddler, on seeing her Easter basket, she cried out, "Oh, cool! A book!" Not, "Oh, cool! Candy!" I cheered inside. They save their gift books and treasure them.

They see Mom reading and know that Dad listens to lots of books.

We often talk about books: what we like; what we don't like. Ideas. Recommendations. Predictions. And so much more.

Sometimes we read the same books (like last summer, with the Hunger Games series), which allows for great discussion.

I let them borrow my Kindle. I make this into a very big deal, so they know it's a treat.

Every child is different, and every child will have his or her own challenges (and I'm not touching the category of learning disabilities).

Bottom line:
  • Never, ever give up.
  • Find out what the underlying reason might be for not liking books.
  • Search out the right book (because boredom might be the problem).
  • Make reading FUN and something to look forward to.
  • Make books and reading valuable, something kids can own.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WNW: The Appendix Podcast

Cheating, sort of, for Word Nerd Wednesday.

How about Writer Wednesday?

For the next few weeks, I get to be a guest on The Appendix podcast. The regular hosts are some great friends: Robison Wells, Sarah M. Eden, and Marion Jensen.

The first episode is up today, with fellow guests:


Listen to us playing a bunch of goofy writer/storytelling games.

(I add cross-dressing to a bad romance story.)

Lots o' fun.

Listen to this week's episode HERE.

WNW: A Higher Brow Alphabet Song

I can't remember where I first saw this clip, but most recently, fellow writer Braden Bell pointed me to it, knowing it was right up my alley.

I'm a huge fan of A Capella groups, which I was introduced to through my cousin John Luthy, the founder and amazing vocal percussionist for Voice Male. (If you go to the site right now, he's the one in the purple shirt on the right.)

BYU's famous Vocal Point group took the alphabet song and gave it a word-nerd twist. In addition to the clip being laugh-out-loud funny, it's a great example of just how wonky and weird English really is.

Enjoy!




Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LDS Writers Blogfest: "Desire"

Last April, I participated in a blogfest that involved several LDS writers, each blogging for a day about one element of our beliefs. (My post is HERE.)

We're doing it again, this time with a slightly different focus; we're blogging about our favorite talks from the recent general conference. With such a great conference this year, picking one favorite was pretty much impossible. I finally had to settle on one of many that made an impact on me.


(I'll be quoting Elder Oaks a lot, because he says it all so much better than I could.)

To start off, I have to admit that at times I struggle with one vital and important part of mortality and my hopes for eternal life: enduring to the end. At times I get discouraged, wondering if my devoted efforts from ten years ago really mattered. In the end, it's what I'm doing today and tomorrow that will determine my destiny.

That may sound silly, but without going into details, enduring, keeping the course, and maintaining and acting upon the right priorities and desires can be hard at times, especially when I compare my past efforts with others'. (Comparison and those issues are another post altogether . . .)

Some events have made me angry at times, wanting to drop the spiritual "ball" and let someone else be the valiant one for once. But when I let that happen, over time, I, of course, find my own spirituality suffering.

I have to accept one simple fact: God doesn't want a lukewarm disciple. I must endure.

Elder Oaks said:
The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.
I love that it's not just our desires that ultimately determine our becoming, but the desires we act upon. Big difference. It goes back to all those great intentions that never happen but instead pave a special path to you-know-where.

We have so many desires, and many are good. That's when we must set aside some of them, making others our highest priority. Then, with that list in hand, we act upon those. As Elder Oaks said in another general conference talk in 2007, sometimes we must choose between good things; we may have to set aside the good for the "better" and set aside "better" for "best."

Elder Oaks goes on to discuss the struggle of Enos from the Book of Mormon and then comments on it:
Note the three essentials that preceded the promised blessing: desire, labor, and faith.
Desire isn't enough. Here he points out that our deepest desires will actually show up in our actions (our works), and those are what we'll be judged by. In other words, God knows our deepest desires because of our actions.
. . . in modern revelation the Lord declares that He “will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:)
Let's see: I meant to go to the temple more often. I planned to have Family Home Evening regularly. I sure thought I'd get around to studying my scriptures.

The list could go on forever. But, um, nope. Not gonna cut it.
Are we prepared to have our Eternal Judge attach this enormous significance to what we really desire?
That thought could be intensely comforting or intensely disconcerting.

Elder Oaks discusses the story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who had to eventually cut off his own arm, trapped by a boulder, to survive. Referring to that event, Elder Oaks says:

Most of us will never face such an extreme crisis, but all of us face potential traps that will prevent progress toward our eternal destiny. If our righteous desires are sufficiently intense, they will motivate us to cut and carve ourselves free from addictions and other sinful pressures and priorities that prevent our eternal progress.

And here's where the endurance part comes in: true desires, and the actions from those desires, determine who we are. They, then, are part of enduring. And they are not optional.

We should remember that righteous desires cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. They must be heartfelt, unwavering, and permanent.

In interpret that to mean that God doesn't give us brownie points for every commandment we keep, tallying up in the end how righteous we are and what glory we deserve. There's no bar to climb over, just squeaking by, no letter grade or percentage level, that says, "You get to enter the celestial kingdom because you reached this minimum level. But nope, that person doesn't get in because they didn't fast enough times."

He doesn't want us doing the bare minimum. That smacks too much of the lower law, which didn't have the power to save. He wants our devotion entirely.

Elder Oaks continues by listing a few of the desires and actions we should cultivate:

If this seems too difficult—and surely it is not easy for any of us—then we should begin with a desire for such qualities and call upon our loving Heavenly Father for help with our feelings.

. . . it is our actions and our desires that cause us to become something, whether a true friend, a gifted teacher, or one who has qualified for eternal life.

That's where I am right now: asking the Lord to help me develop the qualities I need to become the handmaiden He desires of me. Then to act on those things to fully qualify for those blessings.

The process will continue for the rest of my mortal existence. I hope to find some success along the way when it comes to true discipleship, forgiveness, and qualifying for the blessings I desire in the next life.

Other posts in today's LDS Writers Blogfest:
Annette Lyon: “Desire”
Annie Cechini: “The Spirit of Revelation”
Ben Spendlove: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Chantele Sedgwick: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Charity Bradford: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Jackee Alston: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Jenilyn Tolley: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Jennifer McFadden: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jessie Oliveros: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jolene Perry: “It’s Conference Once Again”
Jordan McCollum: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Kasey Tross: “Guided by the Holy Spirit”
Kayeleen Hamblin: “Become as a Little Child”
Kelly Bryson: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Krista Van Dolzer: “Opportunities to Do Good”
Melanie Stanford: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Michelle Merrill: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Myrna Foster: “Opportunities to Do Good”
Nisa Swineford: “Desire”
Sallee Mathews: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Sierra Gardner: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Tamara Hart Heiner: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”
The Writing Lair: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”

Friday, April 08, 2011

No Excuses

Back in the dark ages when I started writing and seeking publication, writers had to rely on low-tech options like the postal service for submissions and rejections (even getting writers guidelines). Research almost certainly meant hoofing it to a library or bookstore or both.

To figure out the ropes on the whole writing/publishing gig, I subscribed to Writer's Digest. I still do, as it keeps up-to-date on trends and is a great resource for both the beginning and established writer.

I also bought a copy of Writer's Market, a giant tome that was the Bible of publishing at the time.

Then I learned about The League of Utah Writers and began attending chapter meetings, entering contests, and attending the annual conferences.

That was pretty much it for resources back then.

Fast forward to the age of Dr. Google and the Internet. No longer do you have to spend money on postage to mail a letter (or an entire manuscript) when you can use e-mail. No longer do you have to dig up resources in a library (although that's still a great place, and sometimes you will need to go there). Just open a browser window and search away.

Back when I started, finding information about how to submit and to who was hard, especially with editor/agent turnover that didn't get updated until next year's Writer's Market. If I accidentally got the wrong name on a letter (say, I used the person who left the job a month ago), it probably wasn't a big deal, because everyone knew that keeping updated was hard.

No longer.

A truth about the current world of publishing:

You have no excuse for not knowing.

Don't know how to write a query? Google it. Plenty of blogs are out there devoted to that very thing. (One of my favorites: Query Shark.)

Don't know how to format a manuscript? What about revision? Self-editing? Research? Submission? Writer's block? And, and, and . . .

Figure it out. Really. The information is out there for the taking, and in today's world, you have absolutely no excuse for not finding it.

So find industry insiders. Read their blogs. Follow them on Twitter. If you want to freelance, subscribe to newsletters like Funds for Writers. (I subscribe to all three: the regular FFW, Small Markets, and TOTAL.) Follow industry trends. Read.

Still don't know something? Look it up.

When people ask me how to get published, I'm at a bit of a loss, because it's a complex question that could take hours to explain. The answer depends on so many factors, and the process is one that took me years to learn and figure out. I try to answer as best I can, but no matter what I say, it won't be a complete answer.

In the end, the best advice I can give people is this:

Go online and learn about it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

WNW: I Want This Book

If you're a true word nerd and already know grammar and punctuation rules, you'll get a huge kick out this book (which I'm dying to buy):


This "Absolutely Phony Guide" is by the folks behind one of my favorite Twitter streams: FakeAPStylebook. If you're on Twitter, follow them. Now. They're brilliantly funny.

The book is filled with fake "rules" and suggestions. One example: “Weapons and the Military: Shoot first, then ask questions about shooting.”

Not so sure about the rules? No problem; just go in with the knowledge that chances are, everything you read is bogus (even if you aren't getting the joke).

Note that the misspellings and typos are totally on purpose. This is my kind of humor book!

Read more about it in The New Yorker. And then buy it HERE from Amazon.